Some time ago I had the opportunity to visit the cooperative Nazareno di Carpi, an organization that takes care of disabled children. One day they showed me around and had me visit the various parts of the cooperative. It was a sunny day, a little muggy, a typical day in Italy’s Po Valley.
I met a handful of kids who, helped by their teachers, were busy rehearsing for a theatre production. I remember one of them whom I’ll call “Luca”. He was wearing a cowboy hat that was a bit too small for his large head, and he was carrying a plastic pistol. The children performed a few scenes from their play just for me, full of moments of shyness and moments of exaggerated euphoria. They were well behaved, kind, and above all, happy. They were happy that I was there and they were in silence, because I listened to them and watched them. They were happy to give something of themselves to me. At the end I gave a round of applause and they were even more content, especially Luca with his pistol.
Our visit carried us to the jobs department where I met “Luigi”, a boy who was injured in an accident, who is now in a wheelchair and almost blind. I spent a bit of time with him and he talked to me about what he does. He showed me some of his work and invited me to have a cup of coffee with him. While we were in front of the coffee machine he realized that my name was Francesco and he asked me, “So are you the pope?” When I told him no, he became sad, noticeably downcast. But he forgave me all the same and offered me his friendship and a cup of coffee.
Next we went to the art department. There I met “Paolo”, a boy with Down syndrome. He was painting, completely bent up over the table, intensely focused on his work, tracing out lines and filling in spaces. The teachers explained his paintings to me and told me about his exceptional gifts, which have been recognized even by art critics. At one point in our conversation Paolo realized we were talking about him. He slowly backed away from the table, leaving his drawing in sight. With his look and his hand gestures he motioned for me to come closer. Without using a word, he made clear to me that this painting was his. He was proud of his work. Viewing the painting attentively and without haste, I made an effort to gather in its meaning. Then, addressing Paolo, I complimented him for his work. He silently shook my hand and bent back down over the table and carried on with utter dignity.
I left in the afternoon. It was a simple day and at the end I felt very grateful. They were true encounters, pure encounters. Those children shared something precious with me: their drawings, their work, their time. They shared themselves, their strange and kind personalities. There’s hidden warmth in the act of sharing, in the gift of oneself. I saw a place where, in some way, loneliness seemed more difficult and companionship more stable. Sharing life allows us to enter mysteriously into the secret of God’s life, a secret that he began to reveal to us when He became man.
(photo Emma Huang – Portrait Painting)
So far away, Emilia. She comes from Taiwan and graduated with a degree in Italian language from the Catholic University of Fu Jen in June of 2013. So close, Emilia: since 2010 she has been going to the School of Community that meets at Catholic University. About Fr. Giussani, whom she has met through his writings, she has this to say: “We are together because of him.” In 2013, during the Easter vigil, she was baptized.
When did you meet Communion and Liberation?
Three years ago. I saw a few pictures on Facebook of some of my classmates from my Italian courses with you in Italy at the Meeting of Rimini. I looked for more information online and I found a calendar of CL activities. Among the various events, there was a weekly School of Community. I came. I was nervous and didn’t know anyone, but everyone treated me kindly. From then on I haven’t missed a single meeting.
What was it that attracted you?
The friendship. I’ve always had a lot of friends, but they were superficial relationships: we would talk about the latest film, about a new purse, about such and such who was now going out with such and such. A fun night out, a few laughs, but it would always end there. But in the friendships within the movement I discovered that I could be myself, I could speak about true experiences and learn from others.
When did you consider being baptized?
Nobody ever directly brought it up, but we talked a lot about God, about Jesus. I still didn’t know Him, but I knew that in some way He was waiting for me. I clearly remember the day that you asked me if I wanted to come to catechism lessons. I said yes. The next Saturday afternoon, after charitable work at the parish in Tai Shan, where I was teaching English to the children, I began Catechism, with Lele and with you. Three events that quickly became one: charitable work, the place where I learned to give something of myself; catechism, where I received; School of Community, where I shared life with others.
When did you first hear about Fr. Giussani?
In Fu Jen, with that group of students, we would read his book, The Religious Sense. It was an interesting read: Giussani uses examples taken from his experience and he makes you understand things that, on your own, you wouldn’t otherwise understand. Then there was the time we read Traces of a Christian Experience or The Meaning of Charitable Work. There were the Christmas and Easter posters. Recently they asked me to translate parts of a video on Giussani and two texts about the Fraternity of CL. I was struck by a sentence Giussani said May 30th 1998: “The true protagonist of History is the beggar, or rather, the heart of man begging for Christ and Christ begging for the heart of man.” I had thought of Jesus as a king, an omnipotent God, not as a beggar. Then I understood. Jesus is the one who was waiting for me. While I was searching for Him, He was waiting for me.
What surprises you today in the experience of CL?
I’ve always been struck by beauty, the beauty of the songs, of the images, the beauty of our friendship. Ever since I’ve been living this experience, the world for me is a large home where every person I meet is a brother, a sister.
Whenever someone from CL comes to Taiwan, it’s like meeting an old friend. In 2011 I was in Italy, in Rome. You told me I should go visit the sisters in a suburb called La Magliana. When I got to their house I rang the doorbell, but nobody answered. I was about to leave when I saw two young women. I thought they must be students, but instead they were novices. I told them I was a friend of Don Paolo and Don Lele, so we stopped and chatted for quite a while. Then we started singing, because in CL we always sing. In the end, I taught them a song in Chinese: when they wrote out the transliteration I was brought to tears of joy.
What do you think about Fr. Giussani today?
He was someone who sought beauty; we are together because of him. Because of him you became priests and came Taiwan. Whenever I would come across words that were difficult to translate, Lele would say to me, “Pray that Fr. Giussani would help you from heaven.” I think of him as a person who is alive. If I were to meet him today I would kiss his hands and thank him. If it weren’t for him, there would be no CL, and without CL, I wouldn’t have been baptized, and without baptism, I wouldn’t be happy like I am now.